by Lang Whitaker

My job as Executive Editor here at SLAM comes with a very loose definition. Staying up late at night to watch the end of a Grizz-Clips game? Part of the job. Spending 10 minutes figuring out how Josh Smith stacks up against the all-time leading shot blockers in Atlanta Hawks history? Part of the job. Emailing back and forth with a writer trying to make their story better? Part of the job. Thinking up funny headlines? Part of the job. Texting with some NBA player and fending off their requests for a SLAM cover without pissing them off? Part of the job. Tweeting random NBA thoughts in the middle of the night? Part of the job. Writing blog posts and editing together funny videos? Part of the job.

The one unifying part of the job — the big picture stuff, as Michael Scott might say — is that I’m always trying to come up with ideas to make SLAM better. Move along, keep going forward, step outside the box from time to time and try new things.

Maybe two years ago, I was watching a “Mythbusters” marathon one Saturday afternoon, and I thought about how cool it would be to do a basketball Mythbusters issue. For instance, could Earl Manigault really take change off the top of a backboard? Or what about…well, that was the only myth I could think of at that moment. But I kept coming back to that general idea, of SLAM doing a cover story that was actually a package of a lot of other stories.

A few months later I was cleaning up my apartment and came across a stack of Striker magazines, the soccer mag we used to do, and I recalled how we used to do a section called “Training Ground,” in which we had a famous player describe to us how to do his signature move, which we illustrated with detailed drawings.

Sometime later, I was thinking about how SLAM could better serve those of our readers who spend a lot of time actually playing basketball. We have access to a lot of the greatest players in the game, so why couldn’t we do something where they give tips directly to our readers? That would be something you’d be interested to read, right?

Eventually, all this stuff swirled together in my head, and soon after, late one night, I sent Ben the following email with the subject “Idea…” (And yep, this is the actual email that I sent Ben. Sometimes it’s helpful to never empty your email trash):

The SLAM How-To Issue

Maybe the tag line could be something like How to make yourself the best basketball player you can be.

I’m thinking this cover package could be something like 8-10 pages, maybe more. Each page could have 2/3 boxes/items. Could use action shots for the cover, or do a shoot with one of the guys. Inside, lots of action photos. Each item can be a numbered list with 3 or 4 tips/steps on how to do a particular move, I’d say no more than 300 words per item. And maybe there’s a way to do some how-to drawings like we used to do in Striker.

As for players, I’d hope we could get a lot of big name guys (just getting them in locker rooms, etc).

Some initial thoughts…I bet we could come up with a lot more…

LeBron — How to read a defense

Kobe — How to shoot a jump shot

CP3 — How to set up your teammates (or do a crossover)

Duncan — How to use the glass

Dwight — How to rebound

Ray Allen — How to shoot free throws

Bench player — How to contribute to a team w/o getting minutes

TV analyst — How to watch basketball

A Trainer — How to stay healthy

A PR person — How to market yourself (aimed at high schoolers trying to make a name for themselves maybe?)

After Ben and I went back and forth on email and honed the idea, Ben sat with our publisher and sold him on the idea. Then we had an editorial meeting with the full SLAM staff where we all passed the idea back and forth, and eventually put together a list of topics and players we wanted to match up with each topic. Ben and Susan met with our art department, Melissa and Stephen, and they hashed out how it could all fit together and went to work on the visuals. Finally, we sent our writers across the country out to talk to the best basketball players in the world to uncover their secrets to being amazing.

And from all of that sprang SLAM issue 134, a.k.a. The How-To Issue. My initial list held together pretty well, though we had to make some adjustments based on availability, etc. Here’s the final line-up that’s in SLAM 134:

How to Block a Shot
By Dwight Howard

How to Score
By Kevin Durant

How To Win A Championship
By the Los Angeles Lakers

How To Be A Leader
By Kevin Garnett

How To Shoot A Jump Shot
By Ray Allen, second all-time in three-pointers made

How To Cross Someone Over
By Tim Hardaway, five-time All-Star

How To Improve Every Year
By Danny Granger, Most Improved Player

How To Play With a Superstar
By Romeo Travis, high school teammate of LeBron James

How To Rebound
By Blake Griffin, NCAA rebounding champion

How To Take A Charge
By Shane Battier, All-Defensive Second Team

How To Be A Mascot
By Benny The Bull, longest-tenured mascot in the NBA

How To Shoot A Free Throw
By Chauncey Billups, 89 percent career free throw shooter

How To Be A Fan
By Clipper Darrell, attendee of more than 350 consecutive home games

How To Shoot A Bank Shot
By Rasheed Wallace, four-time All-Star

How To Stay in Game Shape
By Aaron Nelson, Trainer of the Year

How To Read A Defense
By Chris Paul, First Team All-NBA

How To Deal With Losing
By Jamal Crawford, eight seasons, no Playoff games

How To Watch A Basketball Game
By Charles Barkley, Hall of Famer

From that, we put together four different covers (below, which should hit newsstands in NYC this weekend and around the US next week) and a pretty cool cover story package.

(And as for covers, subscribers get the Dwight cover, as well as people overseas, I think. The other covers will be available in their respective regions, and also online.)

Also in SLAM 134, we have a lot of other great stuff, from a feature on the fifth anniversary of Malice at the Palace, written by my main man Sekou Smith, who was actually there at the game when the brawl broke out, to Tzvi’s Dime Drop with Manny Pacquiao, to a team feature on the Dallas Mavs by Khalid to an old school on Tom Meschery, the first Chinese-born player in the NBA. And we have the diaries from Harrison Barnes, Jonny Flynn and Josh Childress, as well as a feature on Brook Lopez, tons of Punks stories…and much, much more.

If you play basketball, this cover package is a must-read. If you’re a fan of the game, it’s just as relevant to you, too. (For instance, we got Charles Barkley to actually take his bit seriously and he came up with some great stuff about how fans should watch basketball.)

As for us, we’re on to the next one, already dreaming up the next issue of SLAM, setting up shoots, getting guys on the phone, watching games, tweeting and posting and writing and going, going, going.

And it don’t stop.

Hey, it’s part of the job.

Enjoy…

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